Monday, 3 November 2008


Kate Sutton, Labour's candidate for Epsom, seems to excite the misogynists as few others do. Standing for the centre-left in the high profile, and highly-monied seat, of Epsom can't be easy,* and it seems that Kate has to deal with a fair amount of sexist crap as well.

Case in point; the TVNZ7 debate for Epsom, which a friend of mine attended recently as a Labour supporter. Sutton was the only non-MP in the debate, which featured Richard Worth from National, Rodney Hide from Act, and Keith Locke from the Greens. Astute readers might also have noticed she was the only woman speaking too - other than Kate it was wall-to-wall heterosexual older white men up on stage. Talk about feeling like The Other.

I've been to a lot of candidate debates; I've even organised and participated in a few. And so I've seen and heard a lot of heckling. In my humble opinion, heckling is part of the democratic to and fro of a candidate debate, as long as it doesn't get nasty or dominate to the extent that it infringes on the right of others to be heard. A good interjection can be a story to be re-told again and again, by all those who heard it, and a sense of humour is always a desirable attribute in the good heckler.

In my younger days I was frequently quite vociferous at political events. In 1999 I even attended an Act meeting in Milford with three friends and we were ejected by the police, after one of my stauncher mates really went hell for leather in challenging Rodney Hide when he assumed he was on safe ground for attacking solo parents on the DPB. On that occasion Mr Hide's campaign manager, one Aaron Bhatnagar lately of Auckland City Council, sat by my friend with the loud voice and the louder views and rather than engaging with her about the issues started to get nasty. Very nasty. But very quietly, so that only a few of us could hear. He started telling her she was fat and ugly and everyone thought she was hideous. He went on for quite a while, attacking my friend not for her politics or for her behaviour, but for her looks. Other women will probably identify with the internal crumbling that accompanies such crictism of your appearance - even when you are aware of the extreme socialisation that tells us from girlhood that what we look like is more important than what we say or do, to be spoken to like that is still a brutal assault.

But back to the recent Epsom debate: Mr Bhatnagar's tactics appear to have been picked up by at least one of those campaigning for Act in this election campaign. At the TVNZ7 debate as Kate walked in a certain blogger for the right started making piggy noises. Loudly. So that Sutton could hear him and feel that insecurity that lies within most Western women; that we're fat and ugly and thus worthless. He was trying to intimidate Sutton, right from the start, and undermine her performance in the debate by planting an awful seed of self-doubt. And his attempt was not based on critiquing her party, or her policy, or anything else relevant to her capability as an MP or her party's suitability to run the country; it was wholly, totally about her looks.

Kate is a mate of mine, really more a friend of lots of my friends. She didn't ask me to write this. Indeed we haven't talked about it (I was told about it by a mutual friend) and I don't even know if she's reading this blog at all. To be honest I didn't write this post for her, because she knows all this already. I wrote it because this kind of crap is not ok, and those who perpetuate it need to be called out.

Shame on you Blair Mulholland, and any other blokes who think this stuff is an acceptable part of The Game. Even political candidates are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with respect, whether they are on your side or not.

Update: Anjum has a few stories from the campaign trail to share too - in regard to Sue Moroney, and the bizarre tale of someone writing an anonymous letter of complaint about Anjum herself and sending it to her parents. Two more examples of attacks on female candidates that would not be made on their male counterparts, and should not be made on anyone.

Later update: Aaron Bhatnagar has provided his own version of events in comments. Of course I stand by what I've written in this post, just wanted to let readers know that he doesn't agree and his recollection is available in the thread. He's pretty steamed up about something that happened almost a decade ago! Pre-election jitters perhaps? I know most political activists get a bit on edge in the last week of the campaign.

* Well it wasn't as an Alliance candidate a couple of elections back, so I think I can safely assume it's no easier to be Labour there now.


Anna said...

This might be a bit controversial, but what the hey.

I find that the thinking of some (NOT ALL!) people on the right, particularly of young men on the reasonably hard core right, is quite childlike. They have a rather simplistic view of the world in which everything can be calculated with simple formulas like self-interest and individualism and harmonious free market transactions, even though the real world is a complex place and manifestly doesn't work like the theories say it's supposed to. (To be fair, there are some on the other side of the spectrum who are similar!).

And for some of those people, childlike can cross over into childish - an absolute disregard for normal, decent human conduct, like the type you've described.

katy said...

It needs to be said that Kate did very well in that debate. In fact, she totally owned it.

Anonymous said...

Anna, that's not controversial at all but the self-evident truth, if blogs by the likes of Cameron Slater (Whale Oil) and Clint Heine are anything to go by. It's fascinating that Rodney Hide these days tries to present an image of being above the petty and personal while allowing so much abusive, misogynistic rubbish from his supporters.

Is it just me or is ACT's campaign very loose and undisciplined this time? The spelling mistakes on billboards, the "accidental" airing of the ad that infringed the Greens' intellectual property ...

Aaron Bhatnagar said...

Dear me Julie, you are bordering on defamatory.

Allow me to correct your memory. I remember this meeting in 1999, because I was sitting directly behind your sabotage squad.

I never, NEVER, would have called your friend fat or ugly (from memory someone called Rebecca Wilson/Williams). I did cynically describe her as "beautiful" and "lovely" , though it was certainly true her behaviour was quite ugly and less than lovely at the meeting.

To be blunt, your Alliance sabotage squad was disruptive and nasty - and actually undemocratic. She (and you plus others) decided to turn up to deliberately disrupt a meeting underscored the real ugliness in the room - people who came to yell, scream, lie down on the floor and then be dragged out by the cops claiming assault.

If memory serves me right, you were actually not one of the screamers, but sat meekly next to them as your mates carried on. That the audience then cheered as your lot of nasties were removed, is testament to what actually happened.

I hope you have the decency to acknowledge this, and that you may have confused me with comments from other people at other meetings.

Anna said...

Aaron, I've no idea who you are or what happened at this particular meeting, but if you called this woman "beautiful" and "lovely" in a cynical way, you were clearly implying the opposite, and therefore trying to belittle her.

Julie said...

Aaron let me assure you that I have a very clear memory of what you said, and it is as I have mentioned. Perhaps it is you that is remembering comments from other meetings, as not only do you have the name of the person concerned wrong (I don't know anyone called Rebecca Williams or Wilson), you have the political affiliations of the group wrong. I don't think I've ever encountered you at another election meeting, and the nastiness of that particular incident has stayed with me a long time because it was one of the worst personal attacks I've seen.

I don't recall being dragged anywhere by the cops that day, although I remember you roughly grabbing arms until my friend pointed out it was assault and you backed off. When the single cop arrived (miffed to be called away from serious crime in Torbay as I recall) two of us left. At that stage the other two had not uttered a word, and of course I didn't see what happened after I left, but I believe they did cause some disruption and then left too.

Interesting that you don't recall me saying anything. Yes my friend was far stauncher with the heckling, I've said that in my post. I'm not the best heckler in the world, I freely admit, cos I'm a bit timid. But I do remember quite clearly turning to you, after putting up with a few minutes of your nasty snide comments, and saying sarcastically "oh my god you are right, she isn't a size 10 therefore everything she says must be totally wrong, you've converted me Aaron and I realise the error of my ways." Something like that. Ringing any bells? I seem to recall that you largely shut up after that and just waited for the police to turn up.

This was nearly 10 years ago - 1999, before I was a member of the Alliance. There were four of us and probably 60-80 Act people. I'd say our disruption was pretty minor really. And certainly Act's hands were not clean in that election campaign, when it came to sending people to abuse candidates at meetings. At least we stuck to the issues rather than any personal abuse.

It's great to see your high level of concern though Aaron, and I'm sure you'll be raising it with the Act and National activists who have been heaping the personal abuse on Kate at every opportunity. In particular the National party official who attempted to rattle Kate at the TVNZ7 debate by consistently interjecting that she was looking nervous, and that she looked unattractive when she smiled like that. I'm sure you'll agree that that's not on.

Just my opinion said...

Since an Anon person decided to drag my blog and therefore me into this I will add my two cents to this. I might add that I got some interesting emails about Kate and her AUSA "experiences" from a great number of people who have sworn that they are true - and I have not mentioned them on my blog out of respect for Kate. Anon - get your facts right.

Why were Alliance rabble rousers attending an ACT meeting if it asn't to stir up trouble. Good god what blinkers you girls have on if you are crying crocodile tears about it. Please be at least a little honest instead of saying you were removed for no reason.

I know Aaron, and we are hardly what anybody would call best buds but he would not do what you have incorrectly accuse him of. Why attempt to rewrite history on this blog? Have you really run out of things to write about ACT that you need to make it up?

While what Blair did was uncalled for why would you use this as an attack on the people in ACT? I have seen Alliance members punch people in protests and do I call all Alliance people thugs or criminals?

I can't believe this nonsense, some of you are just being really silly now.

Julie said...

Oh dear Clint, I'm not sure you read my comment properly.

1. I never claimed we were removed for no reason as you state.
2. I also made it clear that Aaron has the party affiliations of those involved incorrect. I didn't join the Alliance until after that election, and of the other three involved I know for sure that two of them were not in the Alliance either. Not sure about other one.

You claim that I was trying to rewrite history, and are prepared to back Aaron's version when you weren't there. Fair enough, you are defending what you perceive as an attack on your party, and your broader group of blog-friends.

Aaron and I have diferent recollections, based on both being at the same event, which I note you weren't at. However his comment indicates that he did say something along the lines of what I have written, even if he used different words (personally I strongly remember him using the terms fat and ugly, but frankly there isn't that much difference with what his intent clearly was in his version of what happened - to criticise a woman based not on her politics or her actions but on her appearance).

I didn't make any claim that all Act activists behave like that - I was calling out one particular person, who is a prominent Act person, and I think managing the Botany campaign? I've not seen anyone in this thread claiming everyone in Act is being a misogynist dick on the campaign trail. I sincerely hope they aren't.

You can try to turn this into an opportunity to attack the Alliance, and this blog, all you like, but I'm not in the Alliance anymore. I wouldn't tolerate that kind of action by Alliance people when I was in the party, and in fact I have stood up within the Alliance when people have behaved unconscionably. I am heartened that you may do the same within Act.

Aaron Bhatnagar said...

She might have been Sarah Helms, come to think of it. But clearly you remember whom I am referring to.

Her behaviour was utterly disgusting at the meeting, as is your suggestion I would have roughly grabbed you or any of the other Alliance disruptors. It is also simply laughable that your disruption was "pretty minor", else why would the cops have come to remove your friend kicking and screaming?

For you to now allege such things is both hugely disappointing, but ultimately reflective of why the Alliance were political failures. You were noisy, disruptive, and as proven by your comments on not being a member of the Alliance but a member of their heckle squad - untrustworthy. The public saw through you and your ilk years ago.

Julie said...

Jeeze Aaron, why don't you tell me what you really think? ;-)

You dispute my version, I dispute yours. Such is the way of political disagreements, especially when such time has passed. You've put your version in the comment thread and readers will I'm sure consider it. I stand by what I wrote. These days I guess we'd have a YouTube video up by now to determine the veracity of our recollections.

Bit sad being so bitter over a party you were never in though; on the Left we often reserve that kind of rancor for the ones we've split from :-P

Blair said...

You're very presumptive over a simple oink. Yes I do regard Kate Sutton as an incredibly ugly person, but most of that has far more to do with her personality and politics than her looks. She is stupid, arrogant and shallow, and I think that deserves a few snorts.

Julie said...

Blair, I originally thought you wrote "a simple oik", which is a pretty good summation of the impression someone watching you oink probably would have formed.

Your comment merely shows that my post was right on the money.